The Mountains of Bergen: Mount Fløyen & Mount Ulriken

One of the main reasons my husband and I went to Norway a few weeks ago (apart from the beautiful views!) was the fact that it’s a great place for hiking and climbing mountains. Bergen has seven mountains surrounding the city, so there were ample opportunities to explore the mountains and do some hiking. My husband is pretty passionate about walking around natural spaces and has always loved climbing mountains and through peaceful woods, so we were both pretty excited to try something different on holiday and explore Bergen’s two most popular mountains – Mount Fløyen and Mount Ulriken.

Mount Fløyen

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Due to Mount Floyen being quite a popular mountain, the roads up to Mount Floyen always have tourists and residents strolling up or down the mountain, and there were also trams travelling to and from the mountains for those who wanted the stress-free rides. We decided to take the tram or the Floibanen up to the mountains to explore, and then take the scenic route and walk back down again to the city later.

Once we arrived at the top of the mountain, we were able to see an extraordinary view of the city, which was pretty breathtaking, where we sat and enjoyed the view for a little while. There was also a lovely little coffee top for tea and cake in this area, where a lot of families gathered outside to enjoy the food and breathe in the fresh, cool air.

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Although this view was pretty amazing, we were able to keep walking from this area further upwards towards the top of the mountain, where we walked though beautiful paths and plenty of woodland areas. My husband and I had a lot of fun walking through the woods and being silly, although admittedly we were both pretty out of breath from climbing uphill after a while and needed to rest – pretty embarrassing after seeing a lot of people stroll past easily, clearly used to climbing the mountain every day!

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One of my favourite parts of this mountain is this man-made trail that we found in the middle of nowhere, which we followed to a small clearing with seating to rest and little notes with a game. I forgot to take pictures of the signs here, but it was a nice little find for us in the middle of a huge forest. There’s something a little haunting and eerie about the picture below (maybe I’ve seen too many horror films in the woods!), but really this was a really peaceful, fun place and we managed to run around the trees and explore a little before moving on.

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We carried on walking and followed a path to find a big beautiful lake, which was pretty empty, apart from a family of ducks which didn’t take any notice of us! We sat here for a little while to rest, and enjoyed the peaceful view before walking around a little more, and even found a small cabin on the side of the lake (we didn’t go in though because it was private. And locked.)

We weren’t able to to get to the top of the mountain but we were pretty happy with what we had seen, and were also a little tired, so after this we headed back down towards the city, and made plans for the next mountain hike!

Mount Ulriken

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After climbing down from Mount Floyen and taking a short break in city (and having something to eat!), hubster and I decided to tackle the much larger Mount Ulriken which involves more hilly areas, steep roads and and higher peaks which we wanted to explore.

We took a tour bus to the entrance of the mountain (I say entrance, it’s more like the roads which lead into the mountain) which we later regretted because the tour bus journey was pretty short and very expensive!

Unfortunately we weren’t able to take the cable cars (called Ulriken Express) across to the peaks of the mountain, which I was really looking forward to, due to the high winds and the cold weather. We did managed to walk around for a little while though and spot some memorable sights including this beautiful waterfall below. I really wanted to try some of the water from this waterfall but it was at an awkward location which seemed a little dangerous, so we stopped to take pictures and ooh-and-ahh at the fresh, cool air instead.

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We also did a little more hiking through this mountain, although we weren’t able to access a lot of it without the cable-cars taking us to the top. We also found this mountain a lot less busier than Mount Floyen which had more families and tourists, while this mountain was for the more serious hikers and explorers.

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We had a really fun (and tiring!) day exploring mountains in Bergen, which we found very refreshing. I have mentioned before how wonderful it is to find a place like Norway which has so many natural landscape scenes – mountains, forest, lakes and snowy peaks, and we certainly found all of these in Floyen and Ulriken. I think in future I’d love to be more adventurous and try some rock-climbing or scaling, although I think I’d need to be a little fitter to try these!

I’ll leave you with a funny sign-post we found in Mount Floyen (there’s lots all over) which made me laugh, Norwegians love their trolls and monsters and this was just one more on the list!

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Harlequin Oddities Found About Town: The Train in the Wall

So I saw this a few days ago, it’s not quite Harry Potter’s platform 9¾ but it’s Hackney’s equivalent! I thought this was pretty cool, a train embedded in a wall high up, right next to a bridge leading to an actual train station. The people on the streets were busy ignoring it when they walked past, but they still managed to notice me stop and take a photo of it!

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A View from a Train: The Girl on the Train

sonder
n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.
– The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrrows.

The idea of a narrator travelling back and forth to London by train is something a lot of us commuters can relate to, watching our fellow travellers go about their morning rituals, absorbed in their books, mobiles phones, iPads, staring out of windows and generally avoiding each other in all of our splendid British awkwardness.

“There is something comforting at the sight of strangers safe at home.”

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Paula Hawkin’s The Girl on the Train follows Rachel and her daily train journey into London, giving us the chance to relate to the monotone journeys . Everyday it stops at the same place, giving her the chance to peer into the life of a young couple who live in a row of houses behind the railway tracks, whom she calls Jess and Jason. Daydreaming about their perfect relationship, Rachel becomes more and more obsessed with the details of their lives, embellishing their story and giving herself hope that happiness exists out there somewhere.

“It’s as if people can see the damage written all over me, can see it in my face, the way I hold myself, the way I move.”

But it also from here we learn that Rachel is not the perfect narrator – she’s depressed, self-pitying, and bitter. She has an alcohol-dependency problem, she’s lost her job, and her life is spiralling downwards and is looking like a dead-end. For there is another reason that this row of houses that her train stops at holds Rachel’s obsession – a few doors down from ‘Jess and Jason’ lives her ex-husband Tom, with his beautiful new wife and their baby in her old house.

“They’re what I lost, they’re everything I want to be.”

If this isn’t bleak enough, events take a turn from this depressing start to get worse. Rachel wakes up from another drunken blackout, bruised and bloody and unable to remember the night before or how she got home. She also discovers that ‘Jess’, or Megan, as her real name is, has gone missing and that her seemingly perfect husband ‘Jason’ is the prime suspect. Becoming worried about her part in events, Rachel sets out to find out what happened in her lost hours, and also coming to terms with her own history with her ex-husband and their failed marriage.

The concept of this novel is an interesting one – intertwining the perspectives of three women; Rachel, the failed, miserable drunk, Megan, the missing woman and Anna, the beautiful wife who has replaced Rachel – all with their own flaws, problems and the events of one night which is seeped in mystery and ambiguity.

“I have lost control over everything, even the places in my head.”

There is a sense of disorientation throughout this novel which can be off-putting, and the lines between Rachel’s reality and her memories and drunken impressions can blur together at time, making it confusing about what has already happened and what is the present. It’s also a little depressing – Rachel is not an attractive character, and the ugly scenes of her alcohol abuse is even more depressing, down to the urine-soaked underwear and vomit on the stairs outlining her unaddressed mental issues and her inability to change the predictability of her life.

A lot of reviewers have commented that they found this book difficult to like, and that Rachel is a hard character to relate to because she is so self-pitying, stalker-ish and weak, and that her lack of responsibility for her actions is very off-putting. I agree that it took time to get into this book because of this – she may be a commuter on the train to London, but not one that we feel a kinship with,  if anything she is the embarrassing passenger we all see and hope that they don’t sit next to us.

“So who do I want to be tomorrow?”

Despite this, there’s an interesting mystery at the core of this story – we see how Rachel’s ‘Jess’ is nothing like the real Megan, and how she is a flawed character mirroring Rachel, and similarly we see Anna’s role as the not-so-triumphant victor in marriage and mother-hood. It’s also interesting to re-interpret this novel – is it about identity? About mental illness? Or does it have a darker tone which makes us question what we will do when we are pushed to our limits?

“I am no longer just a girl on the train, going back and forth without point or purpose.”

I won’t include any spoilers for anyone who is still waiting to pick up this book, but I will add that patience is needed if you want to read this, mainly because there is a lot of meandering before the story picks up, and also because the character makes you question what’s in her mind and what really has happened. And the other characters in the novel are just as unpleasant at times – there’s a nasty streak in some of them which makes us question their motives, our reluctant sympathy for Rachel and the notion of peering out of a window and looking at the lives of strangers.

An interesting thriller and definitely different to a lot of murder mysteries I have read before, but it may not be to everyone’s tastes and there’s an unpleasant taste at the end of it because you’re left disliking most of the characters.

An Elephant at Waterloo

If you ever go to Waterloo Station, and come up the escalators, you may see this – a giant elephant wire structure created by artist Kendra Haste. I can’t remember the reason why there was an elephant installed here after it was bought by the London Underground (although I like some of these reasons) – although I’m glad there’s some funky art on the underground like this.

Here’s to an elephanty Monday, they may be big but they’re also magnificent, and they’re nice to peep at on the way to the station!

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Harlequin Oddities Found About Town: No Begging Please, We’re English

It’s the time of the year, the rush for shopping and travelling around on the underground sometimes needs some livening up. Enter the buskers and the underground musicians, and boy do they come in all shapes and sounds. Only yesterday I saw a musician playing on tablas while another one was rolling around on the floor riffing on his keyboard. In the midst of all this, there is some (quality) control required to ensure that people are earning their keep, rather than shamelessly just fleecing people for their money. This is where this sign comes in to politely request any undesirables to flee from the nice, shiny undergrounds, get a job and cut that hair dagnabbit. Okay maybe the last one is just vaguely insinuated rather than told outright. The British Gov’nors have decreed that there shall be no begging. And no begging there was on the underground. Well, until the plaques all fall off from the abuse they get anyway, then it’s a free for all:

“You’ve got to pick-a-pocket or twooooo ….”

nahi begging karo(Part of this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge about Signs)

A Scorching Day out to Clacton-on-Sea

We made the most of our Bank Holiday weekend by doing the obvious thing – bringing together several members of the family clan, making a home-made picnic basket (or three) and driving down to Clacton-on-Sea in our family vans. As you do, on sunny days.

Here’s a few pictures of the results, the sun was glorious, everyone had plenty of ice-cream and I went home with a tan (which could also have just been a dirty face, most of my ‘tans’ wash off at the end of the day). How was your weekend?

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Super Mario Bros’ London Underground Map

I kinda love this – a pixellated Super Mario-style London Underground designed by the amazing art pixies at Reddit, which shows all the tube lines and the River Thames as, well, square-y things. I’m one of those people who have to use the London Underground all the time, so things like this appeal to me because it’s a nice quirky way to see every day things being re-interpreted. And what better than with classic 80s and 90s gaming icons?

Somebody call TfL and let them know they need to put this on their walls, if only just to confuse tourists a little.

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The French Kiss Statue at King’s Cross Station

The French Kiss/Lover’s Embrace statue at King’s Cross Station is a huge piece of bronze art created by sculpture Paul Day (although I have to admit, the Valentine’s handbag is the best bit about it). Although it’s been there for a few years, I haven’t seen it before, and the smaller engravings at the base was added more recently to the giant model.

I like that there’s a commuters theme to the statue, of trains and travelling, and of French meeting English, especially as the King’s Cross Station is the train station to get a direct train from London to Paris. There’s plenty of other art/pieces in this station (like the 9 and ¾ platform, which I have yet to gain access into), but I like this one because of how much it stands out (and because of the handbag).

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